This 2013 San Diego Padres season got pretty exciting for a couple of weeks. I even bought a new hat. Then it got all Padres on us and I remembered that baseball sucks because the league doesn't even try to hide the fact that it loves a handful of teams unconditionally in the name of tradition, so I turned my thoughts back to my one true love, football. More specifically, San Diego Chargers football. Oh, I admit, we've had our differences over the last 6 or 7 years, but things were great for like 3 years before that. And then they were pretty bad again for like 5 or 6 years, but then the Superbowl happened and we were never so into each other as we were that year. Then it was kind of touchy for about 12 years, but for 3 years before that, near total bliss. And then it was pretty terrible until I was born. Basically, peaks and valleys like any relationship.
Anyway, the team this year really went all out in trying to win me over again and I gotta say we're experiencing a bit of a honeymoon phase right now. I'm giddy. First they showed up on my doorstep with a heart-shaped box containing the heads of Norv Turner and AJ Smith, and let me tell you, that's a swoonin'. Really that's all it would've taken, but for months after that they showered me with gifts. Just look at this list of delectable treats the team thrust upon me.
Ted Telesco - Dreamy. Look, I'm well aware that most of the success of the Colts over the last decade is a direct result of having Peyton Manning as their QB for most of that time. I mean, look what he did for the awful Broncos. Turned them from an also ran into a postseason choke job waiting to regurgitate a win straight into the mouths of a baby Ravens team that had no business even being there and who then somehow went on to win the Superbowl. But when I look into the face of Ted Telesco, what I see is a man who is not AJ Smith. That's good enough for me. He can't possibly hold the kind of contempt toward the uneducated, untested masses that AJ did. I have yet to hear him call the fans idiots, and that tells me that the team philosophy at least, has turned a corner.
Mike McCoy - Alright, I'm not terribly thrilled with yet another attempt to turn an offensive coordinator into a head coach, but even I have to admit that this guy has been able to mold the gameplan around the pieces he has and not vice versa. McCoy seems capable of making adjustments, and that is something Norv was either incapable of, or refused to do. When your offensive line is shot, it's time to call some plays that don't take 8 seconds to develop. When I hear McCoy speak, he does so in an even, level-headed way. He's not the smug prick Kevin Gilbride-another offensive coordinator who imploded bigtime when the Chargers gave him a shot-was, and he is not the mumble mouthed loser Norv was. I'll take it!
Ken Whisenhunt - I like Whisenhunt. I have very little to back that up. I just do. Seems like a badass. He's coached some pretty good teams. I mean, how do you not like the Whisenhunt hire? It's a very agreeable move in my book. Maybe the most unheralded and underrated move we made this offseason.
Dwight Freeney - A necessary last minute injury replacement, Freeney is a spectacular pick-up for this team. I'm amazed that people aren't more excited about this. For crying out loud, some of you people got excited for Takeo Spikes! Last year when AJ signed Jared Gaither to take the spot of two injury retired pro bowl linemen people got very excited because, as the local media was all to happy to remind us, he was as big as a house. Or a mountain. Or a planet. Something big. What they refused to report on was that it was widely known just how lazy and inclined to injury Gaither was. Later, when Gaither sat out most of last season, the local media tried to pin it all on us fans for not completely hating the move right when it was made ( I'll admit I did not hate the move, but I was baffled at the time that it was the only move we made on the o-line last year). The point is, the old guard around here made bad moves and refused to do their homework or really listen to anyone at all, while the new regime went out and got a guy who's universally adored for his tenacity and work ethic. Freeney will be a leader in the locker room who knows how to win and loves to play the game. Jared Gaither loves sandwiches.
Derek Cox - Admittedly, I know little about Cox's work, but by all accounts he's a solid corner and there's no doubt that with the departure of Jammer, Cox will immediately become the best corner on our roster. Honestly, our secondary still kind of worries me, but hey, they're trying.
Danny Woodhead - It's been quite some time since the Chargers had any kind crazy white guy factor on the team. Tim Dwight? With Denver putting together a roster comprised alomst exclusively of crazy white guys on offense, we're gonna need Woodhead to be a big contributor. He brings a Sprolesian skill set to the backfield that can only help to open up the running game. Word out of camp right now is that Rivers is throwing underneath like never before, so don't be surprised if the stands are full of Woodhead jerseys by midseason. And not just because it's basically another word for boner.
The Offensive Line - Never before have I been so excited to see an influx of players I've never heard of before. The offensive line was our number one issue last year by a mile. Sure, lots of people will say it was Rivers or Mathews, but honestly, those guys had little chance to live up to expectations behind a line the likes of which we saw last year. Even before Gaither quit, the line should have been a concern for anyone who was paying attention, and yet I heard very little about it from the Charger faithful. Everywhere I turn this year,though, fans are telling me how worried they are about the offensive line and it boggles my mind. Sometimes as fans we get excited by names we've heard before. Jared Gaither, Eddie Royal, Robert Meachem, Takeo Spikes, the Baltimore Ravens defense... The reality is that sometimes it more important to find the right fit. On the offensive line, having as many fresh, experienced bodies as you can find is often more important than having guys whose physical stats blow your mind. Telesco & Co. have spent this offense collecting players who've been there before. And plenty of them. If one guy breaks down this season, all is not lost. I have no doubt that this line will keep Rivers on his feet and open holes for the running game like we haven't seen around here in a couple of years. Once again, these guys are a great mix of fresh and experienced and those qualities are so often underrated in football.
Those aren't the only gifts I received in the off-season, but you get the picture. This team went out of its way to get me back and right now I'm all in. Sure, there were some losses. The most notable being:
Shaun Phillips - I've said it before and I'll say it again, being the leading pass rusher on this team since the downfall of Shawne Merriman is not much to hang your hat on. Phillips made up for whatever he contributed on the field by ever being the quotable cancer when the chips were down. Would I have held onto to him for the right price? Sure. Do I care that he's a Bronco now? Nope.
Louis Vasquez - A solid young player who was somehow elevated to a legendary status because he was rated as the top free agent at his position. Forget that there aren't usually too many pro bowl type free agent lineman roaming around free agency with their hands out. I, like everyone else, would have loved to hold onto this kid, but his departure is not going to set the tone for our season. If our fortunes turn sour, it's probably not because we lost a promising young guard in the offseason. Even if he did go to the Broncos.
Quentin Jammer - Also went to the Broncos. What gives, Broncos? Anyway, this is the guy I think we'll miss. It is my belief that Jammer was that quiet leader in the locker room who led by example. I think we'll miss that kind of presence with the infusion of young talent we have on the defensive side of the ball. It is also my opinion that Jammer is still a pretty good corner. The fans in this town started turning on him over things like getting blown away by Calvin Johnson and that's hardly fair. Has Jammer lost a step? Yep. But he's still solid more often than not and right now he'd still be the first or second best corner on the team. His situation here in San Diego reminds me so much of Trevor Hoffman's last couple of years with the Padres. He'd still put up strong numbers for a closer, but he'd always have a real ugly two or three game stretch and the fans would start calling for his head. Never mind the team couldn't hit or that the owners slashed payroll like-I don't know, insert Friday the 13th reference here-, it was all Trevor's fault that the Padres faded back into obsurity. We're going to miss Jammer and he's going to do something to remind us that we miss him.
There are some other things we still need to talk about before I can really trust this team again, though. Will Ryan Mathews show up in a contract year? Can Philip Rivers turn it around? It's impossible to say for sure right now, but I think the new guys have put a team together that gives those guys every opportunity to make it their year. I'm excited to see the return of Vincent Brown and the emergence of this kid we drafted with the Raider hat. I'm excited to see if Manti Te'o (sp?) can bounce back from the tragic death of his fake ex-girlfriend and his horrible showing against Alabama to become the kind of presence we need to anchor our defense for years to come. I'm just excited for football in a way I haven't been in a long time.
Last year's horrible, injury and laziness ridden team won 7 games, and that says a lot for the talent that remains on this roster. Especially Rivers. I have to believe the mere subtraction of Norv is worth 2 or 3 more wins and the upgrades to our roster have got to be worth 1 or 2 more than that. I'm calling it right now, on the record. I've looked at the schedule and I'm confident this team is not rebuilding. This team will win 11 games this year and compete for the division. And if the awful Ravens managed to win the Superbowl last year, well then the sky's the limit for us. Nothing is beyond our reach. Get ready, because this is gonna be a fun year, people.
Go Bolts!!! God, it's been so long since I really meant that.